Argued: September 8, 2019
Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 455261-V
Barbera, C.J., McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Booth Adkins,
Sally D., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, acting through
Bar Counsel, filed in this Court a Petition for Disciplinary
or Remedial Action against Respondent, Jude Ambe, regarding a
complaint filed against him by a former client, Hans Yondo
Ngale ("Mr. Ngale"). The petition alleges
violations of the Maryland Attorneys' Rules of
Professional Conduct ("MARPC") 19-301.1
(Competence), 19-301.2 (Scope of Representation), 19-301.3
(Diligence), 19-301.4 (Communication), 19-301.5 (Fees),
19-301.15 (Safekeeping Property), 19-301.16 (Declining or
Terminating Representation), 19-303.3 (Candor), 19-308.1 (Bar
Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 19-308.4
September 20, 2018, Petitioner filed its petition. This Court
transmitted the matter to the Circuit Court for Montgomery
County and designated the Honorable James A. Bonifant
("the hearing judge") to conduct an evidentiary
hearing and make proposed findings of fact and conclusions of
law. The hearing took place on February 13-14, 2019. At the
hearing, the judge heard testimony from Respondent and Mr.
adopt in large part the hearing judge's proposed findings
of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the rule violations
that Respondent committed, as well as the aggravating and
mitigating factors we have identified, we disbar Respondent.
Hearing Judge's Findings of Fact
summarize here the hearing judge's findings of fact,
which are supported by clear and convincing evidence.
was admitted to the New York Bar in 2009. He is not a member
of the Maryland Bar. During his legal career, Respondent
operated an immigration law practice. While representing Mr.
Ngale, Respondent maintained an office in Montgomery County,
Ngale is a citizen of the Republic of Cameroon. His native
language is Bakweri and he speaks Pidgin English. He entered
the United States through Mexico in April 2016 and
immediately applied for asylum. In a written statement given
to the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Ngale claimed he
was imprisoned and tortured by Cameroonian officials. While
being transferred from one facility to another during his
imprisonment, Mr. Ngale escaped and traveled to Nigeria, then
First Master Calendar Hearing
Department of Homeland Security held Mr. Ngale in a detention
center in Adelanto, California from April 17, 2016, to
November 2016. Mr. Ngale received a "Notice to
Appear" before the United States Immigration Court
("Immigration Court"), issued June 9, 2016. The
Notice alleged that Mr. Ngale was subject to removal
proceedings because he was not a United States citizen or
national, and he entered the country without proper
documentation. The Immigration Court scheduled a Master
Calendar Hearing for June 22, 2016, to identify the issues in
Mr. Ngale's case and schedule deadlines and future
Ngale spoke to Respondent on the telephone shortly before and
after his first Master Calendar Hearing on June 22, 2016. Mr.
Ngale had learned of Respondent through Norbert Chingo,
another detainee at the Adelanto Detention Center. Respondent
also represented Norbert Chingo. Norbert Chingo's
brother, Derrick Chingo ("Mr. Chingo"), knows
Respondent through an adult soccer club in Maryland.
the calls on June 22, 2016, Mr. Ngale hired Respondent to
represent him regarding his asylum petition and request to be
released on bond. Mr. Ngale and Respondent later disagreed
about the terms of payment reached during those phone calls.
The hearing judge found that Respondent agreed to: (1)
represent Mr. Ngale; (2) litigate the asylum petition before
the Immigration Court and help secure Mr. Ngale's release
on bond; and (3) charge a $5, 000 flat fee that included
travel expenses. Mr. Ngale was to remit $1, 400 immediately
and pay the balance over time after his release.
claimed that during the representation, Mr. Ngale permitted
Mr. Chingo to act on his behalf. In his statement under oath
to Bar Counsel, Respondent stated that he provided Mr. Chingo
with a copy of a retainer agreement for Mr. Ngale. At trial,
Respondent testified to the contrary and admitted the terms
of the representation were never memorialized in writing.
Second Master Calendar Hearing
the advice of Respondent, Mr. Ngale appeared pro se
at the first Master Calendar Hearing and requested a
continuance to secure representation. The Immigration Court
granted the request and scheduled a second Master Calendar
Hearing for July 13, 2016. On June 27, 2016, Mr. Ngale's
brother-in-law, Elvis Munjong, received $1, 400 from Mr.
Ngale's family via Western Union and gave it to
Respondent. There are no billing records for that
transaction. Respondent could not confirm that he gave a
receipt to Elvis Munjong when he received the payment, but he
testified that he later provided Mr. Chingo with a receipt.
Respondent did not produce any receipts or records of the
Third Master Calendar Hearing
12, 2016, Respondent filed a Notice of Appearance on Mr.
Ngale's behalf and a Motion for Continuance of the July
13, 2016, second Master Calendar Hearing. The Immigration
Court granted the motion, scheduled a third Master Calendar
Hearing for August 11, 2016, and stated in the order,
"The Court expects both pleadings as well as all
application[s] for relief to be filed at the next hearing or
they will be deemed waived/abandoned." Respondent did
not inform Mr. Ngale of his intention to request a
continuance or that it was granted.
and Mr. Ngale spoke on the phone on July 12, 2016, and
Respondent instructed Mr. Ngale to fill out a Form I-589,
Application for Asylum and for Withholding Removal. In late
July 2016, Respondent received by mail these documents and
Mr. Ngale's handwritten narrative about his captivity in
August 9, 2016, Respondent travelled to California and met
Mr. Ngale at the Adelanto Detention Center to prepare his
asylum application before the upcoming third Master Calendar
Hearing. After that meeting, Respondent returned to his hotel
room to finalize the application. Respondent testified at the
evidentiary hearing, and also under oath in a statement to
Bar Counsel, that immediately preceding the third Master
Calendar Hearing on August 11, 2016, he and Mr. Ngale
reviewed and edited the application from beginning to end.
The hearing judge found that Respondent's testimony was
not credible regarding how substantively Respondent reviewed
the asylum application with Mr. Ngale. Rather, Mr.
Ngale's testimony established that Respondent rushed
through filling out the application. Mr. Ngale's
testimony further established that Respondent did not give
Mr. Ngale an opportunity to read the application before
appearing in court. Respondent instructed Mr. Ngale to sign
the application in front of the Immigration Court judge and
just say "yes" if asked whether Mr. Ngale had read
the documents. Respondent filed this application with the
Immigration Court, and a hearing on the merits ("Merits
Hearing") was scheduled for November 7, 2016.
First Bond Hearing
Immigration Court judge also scheduled a bond hearing
("Bond Hearing") for October 19, 2016. Respondent
filed a motion to appear by telephone. He testified that the
court denied the motion, and "for administrative
reasons" rescheduled the Bond Hearing to November 7,
2016, the same day as the Merits Hearing. Contrary to this
testimony, the hearing judge determined, based on a Show
Cause Order issued by the Immigration Court, that Respondent
appeared via telephone at the October 19, 2016, Bond Hearing
and requested the continuance.
Merits Hearing and Second Bond Hearing
failed to appear at the November 7, 2016, Merits and Bond
Hearings. He had traveled to Cameroon on October 31, 2016,
and returned on November 8, 2016. Respondent did not file any
motions for withdrawal, postponement, or to appear
telephonically, nor did he contact the Immigration Court to
give notice of his absence. Mr. Ngale requested a continuance
at the Merits Hearing and the Immigration Court denied it.
Forced to proceed without counsel, Mr. Ngale represented
himself and gave testimony inconsistent with his application
for asylum. For example, the torture described in the asylum
application included electrocution, but this description was
omitted in Mr. Ngale's testimony. The application also
described with detail the political group Mr. Ngale claimed
to be a member of, but Mr. Ngale testified that he did not
"really know much about the group" when questioned
by the judge.
on those inconsistencies, the Immigration Court found Mr.
Ngale not credible and denied his asylum application. He was
given thirty days to file an appeal. The Immigration Court
also ordered Mr. Ngale to be released on $25, 000 bond.
Order to Show Cause
Respondent missed the Merits and Bond Hearings on November 7,
2016, the Immigration Court issued an Order to Show Cause
regarding his absence. In an untimely response to the
Immigration Court, Respondent alleged he traveled to Cameroon
on October 30, 2016, due to a family emergency.
Release on Bond and Appeal
Ngale called Respondent the day after the Merits and Bond
Hearings to get assistance with securing the bond for his
release. Respondent located a bond company who wrote and
arranged to pay the $25, 000 bond and associated expenses.
Respondent directed Mr. Ngale to travel to Maryland after his
Chingo gave Respondent $6, 000 on Mr. Ngale's behalf for
the bond and related expenses. Respondent did not deposit the
$6, 000 in an attorney trust account. There are no records
about the bond expenses, nor documents showing how the money
was spent except for a deposit receipt from Bank of America.
Respondent testified at the evidentiary hearing that the bond
premium and processing fee totaled $3, 850. However,
Respondent could not properly account for the remaining $2,
150. Respondent stated under oath to Bar Counsel that he
agreed to assist with the bond for an additional $1, 250.
When questioned at the evidentiary hearing about how the $6,
000 was allocated, Respondent omitted the $1, 250 from his
testimony. Respondent also gave conflicting testimony on the
various expenses associated with transferring Mr. Ngale from
California to Maryland. He could not, however, provide any
supporting documentation for those expenses.
Maryland, Respondent and Mr. Ngale met to discuss appealing
Mr. Ngale's Order of Removal, and Respondent proposed a
$1, 500 flat fee. They disputed the funds already owed to
Respondent, and Mr. Ngale paid $500 towards the appeal.
Respondent did not deposit the funds in an attorney trust
account. Respondent filed a Notice of Appeal with the Board
of Immigration Appeals on December 5, 2016, and entered his
appearance on behalf of Mr. Ngale.
the Notice of Appeal was filed, Respondent refused to discuss
the appeal with Mr. Ngale unless Mr. Ngale paid more money.
Mr. Ngale terminated the representation in December 2016, and
requested his case file. Respondent refused to turn over the
file and informed Mr. Ngale that he needed the file to
respond to the Immigration Court's Show Cause Order. At
the evidentiary hearing, Respondent further testified that
the file was Respondent's property. Mr. Ngale's new
attorney, Ms. Beach-Oswald, mailed Respondent a letter on
February 23, 2017, to inform him that she now represented Mr.
Ngale and again requested his case file. Respondent failed
never filed a motion with the Immigration Court to withdraw
his appearance as Mr. Ngale's attorney. On March 8, 2017,
the Board of Immigration Appeals mailed Respondent a briefing
schedule, directing Respondent to file Mr. Ngale's appeal
brief by March 30, 2017. Respondent did not inform Mr. Ngale
or Ms. Beach-Oswald of the briefing schedule or that his
appeal brief was due by the end of the month.
Bar Counsel's Investigation
Ngale filed a complaint against Respondent with the Attorney
Grievance Commission on April 17, 2017. In his response,
Respondent made assertions that contradict his response to
the Show Cause Order and his testimony at the evidentiary
hearing. Principally, Respondent explained that his trip to
Cameroon was pre-planned, contrary to the family emergency he
cited in his response to the Show Cause Order to the
Immigration Court. Respondent further explained that when the
Immigration Court rescheduled Mr. Ngale's October 19,
2016, Bond Hearing to November 7, 2016, Respondent knew this
date conflicted with his travel plans and informed Mr. Ngale
about the conflict. Furthermore, Respondent averred to Bar
Counsel that Mr. Ngale and his new attorney are using him as
a "scapegoat" to re-open Mr. Ngale's case. As
such, he was "at a lost [sic] why instead of
thanking me; [sic] Mr. Ngale is filing a complaint
The Hearing Judge's Conclusions of Law
hearing judge determined that Respondent violated MARPC
19-301.1, 19-301.2(a), 19-301.3, 19-301.4(a) and (b),
19-301.5(a), 19-301.15(a) and (c), 19-301.16(a) and (d),
19-303.3(a), 19-308.1(a), and 19-308.4(a), (c), and (d).
Respondent excepts to some of the hearing judge's
findings of fact and conclusions of law; Bar Counsel excepts
to none. We shall address each factual finding and conclusion